Sunday, August 9, 2020
Lectionary 19, Year A

Prayer of the Day
O God our defender, storms rage around and within us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us in the faith of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Readings and Psalm (with Semicontinuous First Reading and Psalm)
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 Joseph sold by his brothers
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15 Hearing and confessing the word of faith
Matthew 14:22-33 Jesus walking on the sea

Sermon
Title:  Saving Us From Our Sinking Selves

Oh, the plots that we conjure and the storms that we face, that we weave and that we are worried by.  Watch the news and you see it daily.  Especially this past week with its stories of politics as usual and a most unusual politicized health crisis, and with its storm reports of destructive winds and tropical storms.  With mounting plots and storms that just keep flooding this year, it seems 2020 has gone from being a sight test diagnosis one can boast of, to a year to be avoided at all costs, to be rushed to the end of before one more disaster befalls us.  And just as we are feeling sorry for ourselves and exhausted from the wringing of hands, now the horrific reports from Beirut make small our manageable frets.

Our readings this morning remind us that it is not just the plots and storms of 2020.  That destructive plots are not just a flaw of modern humans. That storms rage through out the ages.

Take a moment and think on the storms that most have your attention and concern.  What are the plots of others that you fear?  What are the plots that you yourself engage in that you most regret?  What are the cares and burdens that you have brought with you this morning?

PAUSE

Those brothers of Joseph have much to confess.  You remember the story, yes?  From Sunday School, or from the earliest of Weber and Rice rock operas – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob (aka Israel).  To make matters worse he starts having dreams that show himself being worshipped and served by the other brothers.  So, to eliminate this threat to their power and their happiness, the brothers plot to kill him, but ultimately, so as to feel better about themselves, they just sell him into slavery.

Oh, how we shake our condemning fingers at those horrible brothers for the plot against poor Joseph.  And yet, as you assessed your own plotting, did you think of the ways that we have sold siblings into slavery – figuratively and literally?  How we seek to eliminate the competition for goods, wealth, opportunity, and power.  How we support racist and classist systems that suppress others for our own advantage.  Like Joseph’s brothers, especially the ones who just stood by and watched and then benefitted from his removal and enslavement, we, even passively, join in the plot.  We benefit from the evil done to our siblings.  Where do you benefit?  What plots do you stand by and watch and say nothing about?

PAUSE

This weekend we mark the 75th anniversary of another example of how monstrous our plotting can be.  In 1945, our leaders thought so little of Japanese civilians living in Nagasaki and Hiroshima as they plotted their destruction.  Was it revenge for Pearl Harbor?  Was it to hasten the end of the war?  Are all things really fair in love and war?  Or are we, sinful and broken as we are, out of control with our plotting?  Are we even able to truthfully assess and confess?

And when our plotting creates storms of backlash, we love to cry the victim’s wail.  “Why is this happening to us?”  “How dare we be treated like this?”  “God, why are we suffering so?”

Of course, the disciples were in an honest to goodness, work of nature, storm.  And they were afraid until the presence of Jesus stilled the water and winds and brought peace to those in the boat.  The early church took comfort in this story as undeserved storms of persecution resulting in martyrdom were raging around the first believers, and they looked to their risen Savior for solace and strength.

Also using it as a metaphor.  And adding it to this hard examination we are doing of ourselves, let’s turn our eyes and our attention to Peter.  (This episode of the damp disciple perhaps explains why Jesus nicknamed Peter, the Rock.  He sure sank like one.)  But how often, plagued by storm, whether of our own making or from forces beyond us, do we cry out to Jesus to help us?  “If you are who you say you are, help us out here.”  Or some form of that plea. 

Like Peter, too often we take some steps to Jesus but then, focusing on self, we plot our own salvation.  As if we can do the impossible without Christ’s help.  We think we can overcome the plots and the storms, and we can save ourselves.  And that is the moment, like Peter, we sink into the very thing we need saving from, be it our sinful selves or our broken world, raging storms or destructive plots.

How do you play at saving yourself?  Do you go for the old – it’s not that bad?  Or, it’ll pass?  Or, well at least I’m not as bad as that one?  Or, it’s just the way that I am?  What causes you to take your eyes off of Jesus and sink into self-centered delusion?

PAUSE

Whatever the storm, whether from our inheritance, or our own making, or our affliction, we see Jesus walking above it.  Whether stumbling or sinking or completely submerged, we see Jesus reaching out a hand to us, offering us salvation.  Whether we think we know the way forward or are feeling completely overwhelmed.  We are wise to keep our eyes on Jesus, his promises and his example, his presence and his hope.  His gifts of water and word, meal and fellowship.

It may feel like it would be easier to walk on water than to, with all honesty and courage, face the plotting and the storms that we are facing these days.  But whatever the degree, whatever the threat or the ordeal, whatever the burden, keep your eyes on the one who not only walked on water and calmed the storm, but who also conquered death.  And who even now, by the grace and mercy of God, reaches out to our sinking selves to raise us up, to share that victory and new life, and to offer us the power of the Holy Spirit for the living of that new life in Christ so that plotting might cease and storms be stilled in us for the sake of the world, for the sake of peace.

Over the wind, over the waves, over the wars, over the worries, hear Jesus say:  “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

The Rev Mark Erson,

Pastor

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